Should I go for it?
November 4, 2007 5:42 AM   Subscribe

I am a new college dropout. The whole incident behind it came as a total shock. I've messed up, I'm lost, and I'm not sure what to do. Naturally, there's a lot more inside.

Due to a stupid lapse of judgment on my part involving me blowing off an assignment and copying part of somebody's computer program, I have an unerasable failure in a class, had my transcript marked (so I probably wouldn't be in "Good Standing"), and been asked to leave campus for a minimum of three years. Thrust into the "real world," I have no real idea what to do.

Before this incident, my grades in college were middling (B+ average), despite my stellar performance as a high school student (top 1% of class, near perfect standardized test scores, significant extracurricular accomplishment). Granted, I was taking classes about a year earlier than most people in my major due to college classes I had taken in high school, but my grades aren't fantastic mostly because I placed more emphasis on extracurriculars like music, programming, and math club, and building relationships in college, instead of acing the courses that were used to satisfy distribution requirements.

My dream was to go to graduate school in mathematics, and afterwards maybe do research at a lab or become a professor, but now that dream seems so far away, and I'm stuck just taking my syllabi and textbooks and working through problems in my spare time (MIT OpenCourseWare has been a great blessing). Thankfully, I've taken enough courses in math to pick up most introductory graduate texts and go through them.

I was in my fifth semester of college, and my parents have suggested that I just take this whole thing as a learning experience and start fresh at another college as soon as possible.

However, it seems like it's going to be very hard, if not impossible, to transfer anywhere with this looming over my academic record.

My parents are highly supportive of me whatever I do (bless their hearts), but we aren't particularly wealthy, and I feel terrible at just pissing away two and a half years of financial support, especially since I went to an expensive private college and because my little brother will be heading off to college in a couple years. Not to mention that I no longer have health insurance and my loans are going to be due, now that I am no longer a student.

At this point, my family has suggested that I just come back and help out at home, go to community college, and try and transfer to a UC school after a year or two with a fresh start, but I feel like that would be a waste of time and money, given my career interests, not to mention that the whole thing seems pretty disingenuous toward the Admissions committee.

At this point, I figure that I'm best off just honing my programming skills working on some freelance and open-source projects, heading off to Silicon Valley once I have the money, and working for a startup or tech company. It's not grad school, and there's not much mathematics, but working with computers is my second love: it is intellectually challenging, fun, and I could see myself doing it for a living. However, it's also risky and my job opportunities will be severely limited to my lack of college degree, but I figure if I'm going to fail, it's better to fail when I'm young and go out fighting, picking up valuable skills and life lessons while I still can.

I've been supporting myself through high school and college through computer jobs, so I have some experience doing standards-compliant web design, web development (Ruby [on Rails], PHP/MySQL, Python with Django, in order of proficiency), programming (C, Java), and *nix system administration (with shell scripting and Perl), and good references from each, if that helps.

I know it sounds like I've already made my decision to leave, but if there is any way for me to get a PhD in mathematics or a related discipline at a university good enough to make me employable, I'd be willing to make the sacrifice, even if it involves many more years of schooling. Even if I need to take out even more student loans. Even if I have to work from the ground up working during the day and taking night classes. Even if I need to sacrifice my hobbies and social life to get straight As on every course I take for the next four years. However, given that getting jobs in academia is a bloodsport, and that my academic pedigree isn't flawless, it seems that the practical thing to do it to cut my losses and keep math as strictly a hobby.

Maybe something in my head's not right for thinking I could get away with such a thing initially, maybe there was something deeper that caused me to crack and compromise my personal code of ethics, maybe college wasn't the best place for me at the time, but I feel like I need to make the most of this forced time off, and am looking to the hive mind for advice.

I apologize for the long message, and thank you if you took the time the read the entire thing.

Anonymous comments and specific questions can be sent to
posted by anonymous to Education (45 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Your parents have offered you a reasonable plan. The rest of your post is your inflated ego preening itself. You cheated and you got kicked out of school. Starting over somewhere else is a reasonable course of action. Worrying about grad school and all the rest of it isn't even worth considering right now. You really need to own the fact you cheated and were booted out of school, and stop white-washing it with minimizers like "something deeper that caused me to crack", blah blah blah. You cheated and you were kicked out of school. Your grandiose plans are now on the back-burner and maybe you go work at Arby's and go to community college and live with your parents for a year and get your life back on track.
posted by 45moore45 at 7:07 AM on November 4, 2007 [18 favorites]

Quit moping and suck it up - you chose the hard route the moment you cheated. And thank the lord daily that you have fantastic, supportive parents - listen to them.
posted by fire&wings at 7:16 AM on November 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

try and transfer to a UC school after a year or two with a fresh start, but I feel like that would be a waste of time and money, given my career interests, not to mention that the whole thing seems pretty disingenuous toward the Admissions committee.

More than disingenuous, you will have to lie when they ask you for a list of every school and college you have attended.

I think most highly regarded schools will not want to touch you with a ten-foot pole for several years. Your best bet may be to wait three years to go back to your private college instead.
posted by grouse at 7:19 AM on November 4, 2007

Yeah, I too was struck by the way you circumlocute your way around saying "I was dishonest and I cheated." Being smart and being honest are not necessarily related.

You can't make that go away by starting fresh, not if you plan (seriously?) on PhD work. A transcript full of Cs would be a far better thing than a transcript full of As with even one indication of a penchant for academic dishonesty.

You have skills. Get a job and use them.
posted by spitbull at 7:34 AM on November 4, 2007

I may have misread your post, but from my understanding, your parent's suggestion is that you start over entirely, redoing all of the classes you've already taken, just because of the F and the cheating issue. Re-doing 2 years of your life to cover-up your cheating is dishonest. It is also stupid. You don't need to do that. You may never go back to THIS school, however:

*when you transfer, as far as I'm aware, the credits transfer but the grades don't. Maybe all schools are different, so I could be wrong about this

*most schools allow you to take a certain amount of credits as a non-degree seeking student, so if a local college has the course, you should be able to take it without being subject to admissions policies.

Go home, get a job, re-take the class you failed elsewhere as a non-degree seeking student at a local college (or community college if the class is available there). If the class is not available, take some classes at the community college that feed your soul, even if they are a complete waste of time. Other than "THE class" or some other classes, spend the next year focusing on working, growing and maturing. Then, apply as a transfer student at another university with your present records. They'll either accept you, or they won't. Why make the assumption that they won't before you even try? Yes, it will be harder than erasing the past two years and starting fresh, and you'll have to face the shame and scrutiny, but hopefully, you'll be able to demonstrate that you know what you did was wrong and out of character and something you'll never do again.

If you are not accepted anywhere else, work for the next 3 years and plan to return to the original college once you are allowed back in. Re-take the course and hopefully the F will be forgiven. Yes, you'll have the cheating thing on your records, but life will go on. You will get accepted into a grad school, and you will be able to do whatever you originally set out yo do. You don't have to change courses completely, just take a longer path.
posted by necessitas at 7:46 AM on November 4, 2007

If the school has said it would accept you back after three years, that is a gift the school is offering you. Accept it. If you keep yourself occupied productively for the next three years --- working, community service, counseling to address your problems being responsible --- there's a chance that once you go back to your old college, and successfully complete your bachelor's degree, they might remove the mark from your record indicating you were forced to leave for dishonesty.

Don't look for sneaky ways to get back in college, when you've got this college saying they will accept you back in three years.
posted by jayder at 7:57 AM on November 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't think the parents were suggesting a cover-up. If the poster had student loans, the schools will show up on a financial aid transcript even if the poster doesn't state the previous institution. There is a paper trail of previous colleges/universities that will be known to any new school. If the OP attempts to enroll at another school without disclosing the previous institution, that also amounts to academic dishonesty and will bar him from admission to a new school. The OP will have to disclose previous institutions. That is why really owning what happened becomes important. The admissions committee will be looking for that sense of ownership and growth from the experience, not excuses.
posted by 45moore45 at 8:02 AM on November 4, 2007

Yeah, I too was struck by the way you circumlocute your way around saying "I was dishonest and I cheated." Being smart and being honest are not necessarily related.

Me too.

Hopefully, once this all sinks in, he'll (she'll?) be able to approach it with a more humble perspective. My assumption is that when it does sink in, the OP will realize that what they did was wrong and dishonest, and a prior lifetime of academic achievement doesn't make up for it, and doesn't make the OP less of a cheater. But people can grow, change and learn from bad choices. Hopefully, that'll happen with the OP, and he/she will be able to demonstrate the growth and that the lesson has been learned.
posted by necessitas at 8:15 AM on November 4, 2007

I agree with the people who suggested the community college-to-UC route. OR "killing" three years and then going back to your private school, if that's a reasonable possibility, fincancially.

But I also agree that you really cannot be sneaky about this. Being sneaky is how you got yourself into trouble, and if you want any prayer of having an academic career, you're going to need to learn how to do this the upfront way. Because even if you continued to be shady, and were successful enough at it to get into a PhD program and become a professor, well, then you'd be someone who became a professor through shady means. And that's a life disaster waiting to happen.

If you do this, and are completely honest with yourself about what you did, and you take steps to change the way your function in an academic setting, then three or five years down the line, if you are still interested in getting a PhD, you'll be able to address this to admission committees. You'll be able to say, truthfully, "I screwed up when I was young, I learned my academic honesty lessons the hard way, but I have spent the last three years working on xxtechincal thing." And you'll have a chance, if your academics at that point are stellar.

ETA: Two other things - jayder may be right that the school might be willing to erase the scarlet A from your transcript if you go back and complete your degree after three years. You may want t contact the academic dean and ask: what it will take to get them to take you back and would there be anything you could do to get them to take the mark off?

Also, when you do go back to school, don't let yourself have the same problems you had before. If you need help, seek it out. If it's hard to get, bang down doors until you get it.
posted by lunasol at 8:16 AM on November 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

First off, I agree with 45moore45 -- to the point where I faved him. Your ego is going to kill you if you give it free reign. GOOD schools design their systems these days, like the one that you went to, to filter their student population and catch anyone who's got issues and not allow them to graduate until they're grownups.

Now as far as future plans go -- luckily, you're in the programming world. A degree is not required. Honesty and humility are things you will have to learn, but a degree is not required to work for most dot-coms or to work out of your parents' home as a contract programmer. Unless you're a cocky sonofabitch, of course, in which case people will go out of their way to see you fail.

If I were you -- first off, the counseling recommendations above are good ones. Go get some. as 45moore45 pointed out, your overattenuated ego and sociopathic self-importance shines through. Second, I'd move home and take your parents offer up to continue taking classes at community college in order to keep your student status current. It's cheap as hell, and it means your student loans won't be ticking like bombs. You can transfer your grades there and then get a couple of associates degrees in things that interest you -- statistics, auto repair, programming, etc. It's actually kind of fun because most community colleges have very small classes and professors that WANT to be teaching there as opposed to bigger schools where the professors are there to do research and let GA's teach the classes.

3 years from now, older and much wiser -- go back to the smaller school and do it RIGHT this time.

And deflate the ego, jackass.
posted by SpecialK at 8:35 AM on November 4, 2007

Don't be so hard on yourself. Cheating's not a good thing, but it ain't murder either.

Actually, outside the pristine walls of academia and in business and the startup world, cheating is often called emulation.

Here's a reality check: You're young and you've got more than 3, 5, even 10 years to figure things out.

Also, there is no such thing as a "permanent record" in academia. If you're asked straight out whether you've been booted before, you can choose how you want to answer that. But I really don't think that's a question that's going to come up on a community college application.

If you're bright and skilled, Silicon Valley's not a bad place to kick around -- work and take some evening classes.

Move home and help the folks round the house? Sounds like a great idea. Waste of time and money? Not at all. Give em something back for their investment in you. Start a small business out of your parent garage. Pay for your bros education. Pay for your own education. Work a little. Take evening classes.

Education's a marathon, not a sprint.

Again, cheating's nothing to be proud of, but it shows resourcefulness. Albeit a little misguided. Better advice is if you're going to cut corners, don't get caught.

Professors and academic bureaucrats love to moan about academic standards, ethics, and academic dishonesty. But most every researcher and professor is guilty, from Harvard to City Community College, is guilty of cutting academic corners -- massaging statistics to generate meaningful research correlations; "borrowing" theoretical concepts and reshaping them til they look new (without crediting the original author); outright stealing science and discoveries; pursuing science that has little or no potential for every having broad social or scientific value for the sake of making a buck; the list goes on and on.

Even Doris Kearns Goodwin is a plagiarist for Chris* sake!

Plenty of examples there.

You don't need to figure out whether you should be a mathematician or programmer right now. Kick around a bit. Travel to Europe. Drink some beers. Take an art class. Take a business class.

Give yourself a break.
posted by pallen123 at 8:45 AM on November 4, 2007 [4 favorites]

You've been asked to leave for three years. I don't see any suggestion that they are promising to take you back then -- you would probably have to petition for readmission. That's how it happened to me when I failed out of college.

Other posters are right -- you cheated, and you should admit it to yourself. If your private university is like mine was, they take honor code violations very seriously. There's a layer of guilt there that no amount of excellent grades elsewhere will erase.

Transferring to another school is going to be hard if your transcript shows you left in bad standing. On the other hand, you might eventually be able to get the "left in bad standing" removed from your record. I did, after at least couple of years away from the school, and with a promise that I would not use my new "good standing" to try to return to the same school.

In the meantime, work, save money (because you're not going to get any scholarships now), and remind yourself that you can do the schoolwork without cheating. Take some time off from school to adjust your perspective, and leave the "what am I going to do about college" issue lie fallow for a while.
posted by flexiblefine at 8:46 AM on November 4, 2007

Before this incident, my grades in college were middling (B+ average), despite my stellar performance as a high school student (top 1% of class, near perfect standardized test scores, significant extracurricular accomplishment).

Those in authority often translate "first time offender" to "first time caught." The question on their minds are, "This person has been caught cheating once, perhaps they have been cheating all along?"

I figure that I'm best off just honing my programming skills working on some freelance and open-source projects, heading off to Silicon Valley once I have the money, and working for a startup or tech company.

Given the fact that you've squandered your opportunities at your private college, what makes you think you're in any better position to strike out on your own? Silicon Valley? I think you've been watching too much tv. Hey, while you're at it why don't you hop a bus to Hollywood and make it big as a movie star?

it seems like it's going to be very hard, if not impossible, to transfer anywhere with this looming over my academic record.

Nothing is impossible. For every academic screw up there are plenty of schools out there waiting to help you out (and take your money.) Hell, your own school probably has an appeals process in place for students like yourself which could shrink the three year wait to something else. Have you exhausted all of your options at the school? Have you spoken with the deans, your professors, etc etc?

Listen to your parents. Take responsibility for your actions. Grow up. Buckle down. And find a way to stay in school (any school.)
posted by wfrgms at 8:51 AM on November 4, 2007

As harsh as this may sound, you probably haven't learned your lesson yet. You thought there was an easy way to get through the class and it failed. Now you're looking for an easy way around the expulsion. There isn't one, and you'll only dig yourself a deeper hole trying to find one.

Your goals aren't lost. They've just converted from medium-term goals to long-term goals.

Get out into the real world. IT is still, in many ways, a meritocracy, so if your programming is sound and your work ethic is professional, you should be able to get a decent job.

Then figure out why you always look for the easy way out. Therapy is a great resource. Once you've actually learned your lesson, get back to your goals.

(In case I sound heartless, I had to do the same thing. Dropped out of school because I was an idiot, rarely showed up, and when I did, failed the classes. Took me a decade to straighten myself out. Developed a good career in the mean time, and then went back to school. I'm just about to graduate with a 3.97 gpa.)
posted by ochenk at 8:53 AM on November 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Jayder and Lunasol have it.
posted by WCityMike at 9:08 AM on November 4, 2007

I'm wondering if one of the issues here (among others already highlighted) is that "three years" sounds like "forever" when you are in your early 20s.

It isn't. It really isn't. People routinely wait three or more years for things that move their lives forward: saving to buy a house, waiting for an adoption match, going back to school, whatever. Those things involve a lot of sitting around and kicking your heels in terms of reaching a goal, but life goes on underneath that. People work, have friends, live their lives.

You need to fill three years productively. Get a job and start paying off the loans you already have. This will reduce your debt load and be a positive thing in the long run; you have a chance to graduate with less debt than your peers because you can pay off some of it now.

And by the way, please do not be one of the entitlement assholes. You are not entitled to a programming or tech job or to while away your hours putting your brain to work on worthwhile but not paying code. It is the holiday season; go apply at book stores and retail and other stores and get a job while you figure out how you're going to make use of these three years.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:45 AM on November 4, 2007

I have read that Senator Ted Kennedy was kicked out of Harvard for cheating (on an ethics examination!), and after an enforced hiatus from college, he returned and got his bachelor's degree. It seems to be regarded as more of a youthful indiscretion than a black mark.

Of course, he's a Kennedy and you're not, but his story shows that at least in theory a suspension for dishonesty is not a career-killer.

I think going back to your old school would be better than moving on to some other school, in the sense that it would give you the closure of repairing the relationship with that school. If they accept you back, and you go back, you will have the feeling that you have served your penance.
posted by jayder at 9:57 AM on November 4, 2007

Do not listen to pallen123's thoughts on cheating. Others have pointed out your possible ego and self-importance issues. It would be very easy to read Pallen123's points and use them to justify the cheating. DO NOT DO THIS. He is way off, and passing off someone else's work as your own because you couldn't/wouldn't do it yourself is called cheating not emulation, and not just in the academic world.

Also, be careful about petitioning right away to get back in or have this incident removed from your records. As wfrgms pointed out: Those in authority often translate "first time offender" to "first time caught." The question on their minds are, "This person has been caught cheating once, perhaps they have been cheating all along?" That was the exact question on my mind, and I'd be surprised if most people didn't wonder the same thing. It is too soon to prove yourself against that assumption.

Finally, as lunasol points out: if you continued to be shady, and were successful enough at it to get into a PhD program and become a professor, well, then you'd be someone who became a professor through shady means. And that's a life disaster waiting to happen. Even if you have the skills to become well respected or an authority in your chosen field, your bio would have an easily-outable, glaring omission. When it is revealed, and it will be, everything you worked for to that point will probably go down the drain. And there will be little room for recovery for someone who covered-up dishonesty with dishonesty. You'll be better off getting back into school the honest way and living with a clear conscience rather than a clear record.

As everyone -other than pallen123 - has said, you need to get your ego in check and own what you did. A good way to start would be to stop glossing over what really happened and stop thinking of yourself as a college drop-out. You were kicked out, there's a big difference.
posted by necessitas at 9:58 AM on November 4, 2007

Don't listen to necessitas and the other lightweights here. Be a man. Own up to your mistake (which it sounds like you're already doing). But don't let let yourself get swept away with self pity. No one is as decent and ethical as the puritan posters here would have you believe. Toughen up little punk, and don't take yourself, or any of these posters, too seriously.
posted by pallen123 at 9:06 AM on November 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

I am optimistic that your school will eventually remove the scarlet letter from your transcript because they are willing to let you return at all. They obviously care about you and don't want to ruin the rest of your career. B+ is not middling. I don't know why you think so. I also think the three years may be negotiable, if you stay in touch and keep them updated on your progress.

If you can afford it, I would head for another country and do some community service. Check out engineers without borders and engineers for a sustainable world. Some of these programs allow you to temporarily suspend your student loans, but I don't know the details. This is your big chance to do something amazing.
posted by Eringatang at 9:13 AM on November 4, 2007

Wow, if you want any career in academia, do not listen to pallen123. Somewhere among all of the people saying "Get your head on straight and get your ego in check" he read "Become overwhelmed with self-pity and act like a whiny bitch," and then took it upon himself to tell you how a "real man" acts--which is apparently in a completely self-serving and egotistical manner. OK. Do ignore him, and remember just because not everyone is decent and ethical doesn't give you license to be indecent and unethical--in fact, I bet that reasoning is exactly what led you to cheat in the first place, and you are now thinking about how unfair life is because you got caught.

If you want to get back to college as soon as possible, do the community college route and hope a slightly-less pristine institution will take you. Or wait the three years.
posted by schroedinger at 9:38 AM on November 4, 2007

Just chiming in to say that you don't sound like an ego monster to me, you sound like someone who had some ambitious long-term plans and desires, and you screwed up, and you're wondering if that means those plans and desires have to be abandoned. I agree with other posters that the answer to this question is probably related to how directly you can acknowledge your decision that brought you to this point and confront and change the character traits that led to that decision.

wfrgms: getting a job as a programmer for a startup isn't exactly high fantasy! If I were the OP, I would probably go and work for the three years in the Bay Area or another tech hotspot and strive to distinguish myself as a great coder with a great character. If you want to go back to the private school afterwards, you'll have real-world projects to show them and co-workers who can vouch for your maturity, and you'll be able to pay for more of your education.

Lastly, I don't think wanting to get a job in his or her area of interest equals having a sense of entitlement. If he or she applies honestly and is good enough to get the job and do the job, he or she is entitled to the job.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 10:14 AM on November 4, 2007

However, given that getting jobs in academia is a bloodsport, and that my academic pedigree isn't flawless, it seems that the practical thing to do it to cut my losses and keep math as strictly a hobby.

I am a Ph. D student in applied mathematics. Yes, the job application process can suck, but a Ph. D in maths is really it's own sort of reward, and depending on what you're interested in (I suspect you would lean towards something with Computer Science applications such as Machine Learning, Graph Theory, etc...), you're definitely going to be attractive to employers as well as academic departments, so I would encourage you to pursue this.

I applied to several top tier schools, and nowhere in my applications process was I asked if I had been involved in an academic dishonesty situation in my school (coincidentally, I have, though my school did not take the drastic level of measures that yours did). If you're wondering where in the applications process this would turn up, some schools will want a letter of recommendation from your Department Head, who would be obligated to inform them of anything that hasn't been 'sealed'. I don't think an 'F' on a transcript alone (particularly a non-recent grade) would disqualify an otherwise exemplary candidate.

I don't know if it's too late to appeal the decision to your school, but 3 years seems to be a fairly harsh punishment for 'a programming assignment'. If you are truly contrite and take full responsibility for your actions (seems to be a common theme in this thread :), your odds of a successful appeal will increase, however, 3 years off in the middle of undergrad is not such a bad thing.

You need to deal with the college loans, so that means either getting back in school, or getting a job and repaying them as completely as you can. If you can find opportunities for travel, study, or extended volunteer work abroad that do not impinge upon your financial stability and your parents, I suggest you take them.
posted by onalark at 10:45 AM on November 4, 2007

From my roommate's experience with community college classes -- and I'm sure some are better than this -- they don't sound like a place for someone with ambition.

I'm with eringatang. This is a three-year chance to do something interesting and educational, be that getting a job in the field or working abroad.

The one part that concerns me is the financial pain on your parents of having two kids in college at the same time. Can your penance be to pay for more of it than you were planning to?
posted by salvia at 11:00 AM on November 4, 2007

Don't know the answer to your question, just adding one more to the people who don't think your post reads egotistically at all, quite the opposite. In particular, you seem acutely conscious of the good fortune of having a supportive family.

I can see why people who are working their way up the academic ladder the hard way would be pretty scathing about someone who tried to do it the easy and dishonest way. It's important to acknowledge when you screw up, but don't waste time developing a burdensome sense of yourself as an evil wrongdoer.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 11:09 AM on November 4, 2007

Use these three years to pay off those loans. Then reapply.

You need some time out in the real world. The perspective will help you.
posted by konolia at 11:25 AM on November 4, 2007

And it's good that you are grateful to your folks. Many of us would have been supportive yet suggested that the rest of your education would be on YOU.
posted by konolia at 11:27 AM on November 4, 2007

You will be able to achieve your lofty academic aspirations, but not as a liar. Be honest about what happened. Humble yourself. Maybe you were going through tough times, but you knew what you were doing was wrong, or against the rules, when you did it. Don't hide from that. I speak from a similar experience, criminal, in fact. Motivated by anxiety disorder, blah blah blah. I know you won't be able to move on until you uncork your guilt and just accept that even you do stupid, stupid shit. You're not so special that you don't.

Move schools if you want to get back sooner, and just explain that you think you're ready to excel under your own steam. I imagine the cheating will matter somewhat, but won't completely prevent you form admission. However, taking time off from college so you can do it right is always okay. I got a lot more out of it after a nearly two year hiatus, and graduated with honors.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:37 AM on November 4, 2007

Due to a stupid lapse of judgment on my part involving me blowing off an assignment and copying part of somebody's computer program, I have an unerasable failure in a class, had my transcript marked (so I probably wouldn't be in "Good Standing"), and been asked to leave campus for a minimum of three years.

I'm pretty surprised that partial copying of a standard mid term assignment results in a 3-year suspension.. How much of the course mark was this assignment worth?

Anyway.. I'm not going to get myself embroiled here, but..

Don't look for sneaky ways to get back in college, when you've got this college saying they will accept you back in three years.

I can't agree.. If it was a 1 year suspension, I would, but 3 years is a hell of a long time for an undergrad. In my estimation, it isn't an invitation to return, it is a plea that you please please go away and never bother them again.

Sounds like you want to be in academia long term.. My advice, take a year to sort out opportunities at new schools, and get going again. Own up to the cheating when explicitly required to, otherwise just get on with life.

And, read Disciplined Minds (or at least listen to it, starting at program 176).
posted by Chuckles at 11:39 AM on November 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

>>SpecialK said: It's actually kind of fun because most community colleges have very small classes and professors that WANT to be teaching there as opposed to bigger schools where the professors are there to do research and let GA's teach the classes.

If you decide to go the community college route, I suggest observing a few classes. I think what SpecialK said is true of the older teachers, but I know 3 women in their mid 20's that teach at a community college. Maybe they like it secretly? I don't know, but all their stories lead me to believe they hate it.
posted by spec80 at 11:42 AM on November 4, 2007

Fuck college. Given your impatience and arrogance (that's not an insult) you would have hated graduate school anyway - and really hated research. I am you, twenty years later. (Except that I washed out of college in my seventh semester. And I got my near-perfect SAT scores back when that was hard.)

You're not a scientist. Scientists are self-abnegating, devoted to procedure and provability. They have fantastic attention spans. You're a problem-solver, almost physically attracted to cleverness and shortcuts, with little more ethical sense than a machine - you're a programmer, like me.

Now, I'm not saying you won't always miss math a little bit. Those skills will fade, and you won't have time to keep up. You won't be able to follow current research in math or physics. You'll become a layman. It's frustrating. But it's not what you're cut out for.

Be what you are. Maybe Google and Apple won't hire you without a BS or a PhD, but in the startup world, no-one cares. Get a job (that's a W2 + benefits, not a 1099), make yourself invaluable, live cheaply, pay off your loans. There is a lot of investment pressure right now, and a lot of startups in the Valley looking for smart versatile young programmers.

I know what I'm talking about - I'm the CTO of a VC-backed startup. (MefiMail me a résumé if you want.) I've made this recommendation to other young hackers: build something on top of Amazon Web Services. Can you imagine what the '90s would have been like if disk space and CPU time had been cheaply available pay-as-you-go? If you showed up at our door with the demonstrable ability to build scalable Web software on AWS, we'd hire you with few questions asked.
posted by nicwolff at 12:50 PM on November 4, 2007 [3 favorites]

Pallen123's idiotic posts are the two posts in the thread I'd expect to see someone who asked this question mark as Best Answer. Which they aren't.

It's not honourable, manly or resourceful to cheat, it's cheating. Try it in the business world and you'll at best be "that guy who takes all the credit for our work" and at worst fired for coasting. You've got these amazing skills, but couldn't complete a programming assignment, huh?

Get nicwolff to hire you, and see what it's like working for a boss with little more ethical sense than a machine.
posted by bonaldi at 1:20 PM on November 4, 2007

the good thing about maths and programming is, just cos you're not at college. you can still keep your hand in. unlike other subjects where you're screwed if you cant get your hands on the equipment. I dont know your college system but I figure if you ever want to get back in you gotta give it a few years, get a job, work on stuff in your own time then in a few years u can go back and say you were young and foolish, made a mistake, didnt understand the consequences, you've experienced real life but kept on doing the stuff you love, show them some work and tell em you really want to do it and how you sure as hell wont make that mistake again cos you've seen what your life would be like and you dont want that.
posted by browolf at 2:21 PM on November 4, 2007

I think I second nicwolff here. I was a gnat's nuthair away from a similar predicament as you find yourself now, but that was in 1990 where the only real opportunity in the industry for freelancers was becoming the next Michael Dell or something.

Now there are a lot of technologies dying to be mastered. Choose one. Own it sufficiently to /write/ the O'Reilly book on it.

Then go back to your private school in 3 years time.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 2:25 PM on November 4, 2007

Three years? I, too, went to a private college that would expel you for cheating, and I never heard of anyone being expelled for three years. My school was and still is considered to be super hardcore w/r/t enforcing the Code, so I'd be interested to know where you went. In short, I think there has to be more going on here than just a copied part of a program, at least from the school's POV. Being suspended for three years is a long time.

In order to get into another school with that kind of academic scar, I'd suggest you get your ducks in a row, and have a good, well-thought-out mea culpa about what happened for any admissions committee you speak to or any essay you have to write. But before you do, be sure you are serious about actually being a student rather than screwing around.

The difference between the earning power of a person with a college degree versus someone without a degree is something on the order of 50%. Since you appear to have some skills and knowledge already, maybe you would do better, but maybe you would do the same or worse. Don't think you're special enough to beat statistics. Figure out how to get back into school and transfer the credits that you can. You can't get rid of the black marks on your record,but that doesn't obliviate the classes you took and did well in, nor does it disqualify your CLEP or AP scores (or whatever you have that got you out of entry level classes).
posted by Medieval Maven at 3:08 PM on November 4, 2007

Listen to your parents.

This whole episode looks like the biggest thing in the world to you right now, because of your limited experience and your perspective being so close to it. Presumably you've learned your lesson and wouldn't make a mistake like this again. If so, then you need to take it on faith - from me, from your parents, from the others in this thread - that this isn't that big a deal, that you can get over it and it will not materially affect the rest of your life.

You may have lost your ticket to (expensive private school) but there are a great number of colleges where you could start over - with renewed focus and a sense of your second chance - and achieve as much success as you're able. If that's really what you want (and it should be), don't let your current fears get in the way of it; it's easily accomplished.

You might also look around for some autobiographies to read instead of MIT's OpenCourseware. You'll find that most successful people have at least one, if not many things in their past that make your current troubles look less significant than a butt pimple.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:13 PM on November 4, 2007

nicwolff and ikkyu2 have it right. as a successful tech exec that spent 15 years in the valley, i can tell you there are, and will continue to be, plenty of opportunities for bright programmers and entrepreneurs. i don't know if you're the former, and you haven't proven yourself to be the latter, but if you want to find out, you can certainly get yourself to the bay area and give it a go. be sure you have a couch to crash on for a couple months (or money to rent a place) because it might take that long to find a real gig. take some time now to figure out what makes you tick -- what you're really passionate, versus curious about. that exercise will take you years. most academics don't give themselves that time. they pursue interests until they become academic careers. don't let petty posters like bonaldi get to you with the judgment they're passing -- without even knowing you. ethics plays an important role in business and academia, but that doesn't strike me as a weakness of yours. a couple sayings to keep the postings in this thread in perspective...

"Those that can, do. Those that can't, teach."

"Money talks. Bullshit walks."
posted by pallen123 at 5:10 PM on November 4, 2007

Mod note: a few comments removed -- if you can't answer the question without calling SOMEONE an asshole or an idiot, then you shoudl be in metatalk, not here
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:22 PM on November 4, 2007

yeah I agree with nicwolff. (Three years? Either there's a lot more to the story or this is just unnecessarily brutal, in my opinion.) Build open source software and/or Web applications and services and give others license to copy your computer programs! That would be good karma, yes?

And don't sell your skills short, if you know how to do all those things, keep at them and get better - if your grades were middling how would you like a PhD program that made the kind of work you didn't really like your full-time job for the rest of your professional life??

(I pissed away two years of graduate school at an expensive private university, one of which I borrowed money for and will finish paying when I'm over 40, at the current pace. Now I work in IT and I am much, much happier and I love the fact that crunch time or not, I can just look up someone's Javascript or CSS tricks or whatever that they've posted for all to use, credit them as they require, and use it myself. Maybe this whole experience is a gift that's saving you from spending years chasing a dream that would make you very unhappy on a daily basis.)

Also, if you want to finish your bachelor's which is prob a good thing ($$ speaking), what about going to work for a university? You're not excluded from that.. find one that'll let you take classes as part of your job benefits, take classes part time, get your credits, graduate.
posted by citron at 7:16 PM on November 4, 2007

Generally speaking, employers care more about your ability to do a job rather than what school you attended or degree you got. A PhD in Whatever of course looks great on a resume, but real-world experience is key.

It sounds like you've got skills--take this time and use them, build up a solid portfolio/work history. Maybe down the line you can go back to school...I'm guessing you are very young, you've got lotsa time for that. But go out there and do some work, and your career may very well take off before you know it.
posted by zardoz at 7:41 PM on November 4, 2007

Prof here. I think you will get more out of school if you work for a while before going back, whether you are working at a retail job or at a programming job. Lots of people take time off from college for various reasons, and come back better equipped to take advantage of all that college can offer.

About the cheating:
Don't beat yourself up in a theatrical way over cheating ("woe is me; I'm a morally bankrupt person!"), since that doesn't really help anything. But do acknowledge why it's wrong, and resolve not to do that anymore. You get to choose in life whether to do the right thing or not. Choose to do right. The people who are good to be friends with, good to work for, and good to be respected by, will all think better of you for it -- and eventually they will know if you're faking it.

A PhD program is not impossible if you use your time well in the interim 3 years, and if you then go back to the math/CS department at your private college with your hat in your hand and explain how you have turned things around and how you are ready to get serious and do the work under whatever restrictive conditions they stipulate to ensure you don't cheat. If there's a mark on your transcript for academic dishonesty, the only way to get into a grad program would be for the whole department to write you a letter that explains how you seriously fucked up and recognized it and worked like crazy to redeem yourself.

Notice the "worked like crazy". This is the thing about life outside of school, and about dealing with professors who know you cheated. They don't care about promises or spin. You can't just tell people that you are sorry, or that you're going to work hard. You have to really do it.

(And if you do work hard, at your job/s for the next few years, and when and if you return to school, you will have a good outcome of some kind. Might not be grad school, might not be the awesome tech job you might imagine you can get quickly, but if you work hard and stay honest, in five years you will be in a good spot.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:58 PM on November 4, 2007

I am with the people that say 'Wait it out and go back to your college'. Especially if you want an academic career someday.

As a math grad school dropout (hehe), I don't think PhD programs are an impossibility for you - if you go back to school and finish with the best degree possible. Math is kind of a shallow place, and if you can convince one person that you're genius material they'll over look the cheating incident. Connections matter much more than anything else you've got on file.

I know a (now) PhD student that dropped out of high school and lied on his college admissions and got that overlooked, I know people who have failed classes and had that overlooked. I know people who have "disappeared" to "find themselves" right around midterms to come back a year later and successfully apply for math graduate programs.

If you finish your degree and can impress the people in your department, you've got as much a shot as the rest of the bright eyed, bushy tailed, wanna-be mathematicians out there.
posted by lastyearsfad at 9:17 AM on November 5, 2007

And I think that going back to your first school is a sign of good character - I have a friend that got kicked out of his school one semester from graduation under similar circumstances and decided that "he was too good to go back". Don't be that guy!
posted by lastyearsfad at 9:20 AM on November 5, 2007

"Those that can, do. Those that can't, teach."

Hmm. That old canard. Some of us who "teach" can "do" plenty. Teaching is the smallest part of a serious academic career, the gravy on the steak of actually "doing" plenty.

But I too am suspicious of the three year suspension being a response to a single act of dishonesty on a midterm exam. I don't buy it. I've taught in an Ivy League university with very high standards for honesty for more than a decade. I've caught a few cheaters doing much more serious stuff. I've never heard of a three year suspension for academic dishonesty. Expulsion, sometimes, for very serious breaches (or cheating in grad school), but not for a first-time undergrad offense. I don't buy it.

And pallen123, you're the kind of person I hope I never have to teach.
posted by spitbull at 7:21 PM on November 5, 2007

nicwolff's got it. i dropped out of school (not for ethics, but because it wasn't for me) and some of the most successful people I know (not just financially successful, but ethically and personally successful) people I know never went to college a day in their lives. Choose what you want to do with your life, and more importantly how you want to live it, and then make the choice about the way you can best make that happen. Maybe some college, somewhere is part of that along the way. Maybe not. But this isn't about school, it's about owning up to your mistake and then getting on the path to making something of yourself despite it.

And yeah, you made a serious mistake. But the flip side is: Nobody really cares. If you look at the news, you'll find people who are *regularly* as unethical as you were who are at the top of their industries or areas of discipline. If you can at least be a reformed unethical person who's now found the right path, you'll be doing better than them.
posted by anildash at 10:00 PM on November 5, 2007

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